Church destroyed on 9/11 will reopen as a national shrine

·3 min read

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church hasn't been open for two decades. The church was located steps way from the World Trade Center, and it was completely destroyed on September 11, 2001. But this week, just ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church will be reborn.

The 80-year-old house of worship has been rebuilt near One World Trade Center. On Friday, the National Shrine will be lit, carrying forward the memory of the nearly 3,000 lives lost on 9/11, Father Alexander Karloutsos said in an interview on CBSN.

The original church, located at 155 Cedar Street, was founded in 1916 by Greek immigrants in lower Manhattan who purchased a tavern as a community house. It was often Greek immigrants' first stop after seeing the Statue of Liberty at Ellis Island, the church's website explains.

For decades, as the financial district grew around it, the St. Nicholas community resisted attempts to sell the property. But on that fateful day in September, the church was destroyed in the collapse of the south tower. Very few artifacts were recovered in the days after the tragedy.

The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church that stood near the base of the World Trade Center towers before it was destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks. / Credit: AP/St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church that stood near the base of the World Trade Center towers before it was destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks. / Credit: AP/St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

In the years that followed, Ground Zero was transformed with the construction of One World Trade and a new transportation hub built in the area. The church was given two options: to stay at its original location, or move to a new address, 130 Liberty Street.

"We felt that 130 Liberty would be closer to the [9/11] memorial, it would allow our church to face east rather than north — and that is a tradition with the Orthodox Church that the church must always face east in anticipation of another resurrection," Karloutsos said.

"We're Americans, so we wanted to take this church — which was small, little church — and make it a shrine for all the world to be able to find comfort in," he said. "The old St. Nicholas, people would come all the time, no matter what their faith were. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindus ... they found reflection and meditation there."

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church will be reborn as a national shrine. / Credit: Getty Images
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church will be reborn as a national shrine. / Credit: Getty Images

Karloutsos said he wants to new St. Nicholas to offer the same welcome: "No one's a stranger, everyone is a friend we have not met and a friend that we've not embraced."

"This is going to be a witness to the spirit of St. Nicholas, the spirit of Santa Claus," Karloutsos continued, referring to the church's namesake. "St. Nicholas is the one that embraces and loves and affirms humanity and life itself."

The rebuilding of the church was funded through a nonprofit, "The Friends of St. Nicholas," which raised funds through donations.

It was designed by the renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, inspired by Byzantine precedents, including the famous monastery of Chora and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Friday's lighting ceremony will not only mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but a milestone in the church's historic journey. The new building is expected to be fully completed next year, The Associated Press reports.

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